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Dean's Column: Practice and the Academy

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Nevada Lawyer Magazine
“contrary to persistent lore indicating that law schools disfavor faculty members with practice experience, the full-time faculty at the boyd School of Law have varied and significant practice backgrounds.”
Dean’s column
Recent discussions have highlighted criticisms of the adequacy of legal education in the training of young lawyers. Debates over the role and nature of legal education and its relation to the bar have raged for many years now. Many of these debates focus on legal education’s recently disrupted relationship with “Big Law” – large national and international law firms that employed, until a few years ago, a disproportionate percentage of the graduates of the nation’s best law schools. Those firms’ work overlaps heavily with what most law firms do but also includes special practices that demand on-the-job training. Unfortunately, some law schools serving that segment of the legal market were slow to develop methods of training for those firms’ practices. Indeed, some schools were so focused on placing graduates in those firms that they appear to have paid insufficient attention to training students in the basics necessary to succeed in smaller practice settings as well. Whatever the case, law schools such as Boyd have always placed their graduates in a variety of settings, most of which would not tolerate having to train students in the basics of law practice. Consequently, from the beginning we have focused on identifying efficient ways to impart the skills and professional mores that our graduates will need in order to practice. All lawyers need to constantly build their skills – we call it the “practice” of law, after all. Moreover, most will need to possess or cultivate a business sense in order to be successful. This training must start at law school and, significantly, must take place in collaboration with the practicing bar. In addition to Boyd’s emphasis on skills and professionalism, our externship program allows students to experience practice close up and under supervision in not-forprofit and governmental placements. Contrary to persistent lore indicating that law schools disfavor faculty members with practice experience, the full-time faculty at the Boyd School of Law have varied and significant practice backgrounds. In addition to their impressive academic and scholarly achievements, Boyd faculty members have practiced for an average of 6.17 years. Fifteen percent of our faculty members were partners when they left practice to teach, and 23 percent had at least a decade of practice experience in private or governmental law offices when they joined the academy. And this does not capture the significant ongoing clinical practices at our Thomas and Mack Legal Clinic or the consulting and expert witness work of some members of our faculty. As law professors, our role is distinct from, and cannot replace, the crucial contributions of our adjunct faculty. Nor can any amount of teaching be a substitute for the experience that comes from working on cases. But our faculty is keenly aware of the challenges of practice because of its substantial experience. This is largely why we have reached out to members of the bar to fill the roles of extern supervisors, to work as adjuncts and to give guest lectures. We are also experimenting with new courses in order to give our students additional opportunities to build their skills, and we are in the process of expanding our transactional skills offerings. Some today suggest that the substantial, practical training of law students is in some way inconsistent with a serious examination of the law, the legal system and the social consequences of both through scholarship. We stand committed to the proposition that these things are more than just consistent; they are indispensable to one another. In building the best law school possible for Nevada, we owe the state no less.
dEan John ValERy WhitE has been dean of the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas since 2007. White joined UNLV from Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center, where he was the J. Dawson Gasquet Memorial Professor of Law. He has taught and written extensively on civil rights law. White received his J.D. from Yale Law School.
34 Nevada Lawyer
January 2012
This document is © 2012 by jsmith22 - all rights reserved.
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